Hava Baumatz 30/08/10 Moti Milrod
Hava Baumatz with some of the 30 cats she keeps in her two Petah Tikva homes. Photo by Moti Milrod
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Cats mean the world to Hava Baumatz. In her late 50s and living alone in Petah Tikva, she so loves the creatures that instead of feeding them outside she keeps 30 of them in her two apartments, both in the same building. She spends most of her time caring for the cats, going up and down the stairs between the apartments.

A year ago neighbors complained to the municipal veterinary services, saying the cats had become a nuisance. They said the stairwell smelled awful, the cats made a constant racket and jumped between balconies and that they brought fleas and cockroaches into the building.

City officials soon visited Baumatz's door, and after two visits ordered her to reduce the number of cats in her care to two per apartment. When attempts to reach a compromise failed the city prosecuted her for violating municipal bylaws.

The case has gone on for six months in the city's court for local issues. All attempts by Judge Shalhevet Kamir-Weiss to reach a compromise have foundered. Throughout, Baumatz has maintained, through her attorneys, that no city regulations restrict cat ownership to two per apartment.

One after another, Baumatz's neighbors and city officials testified on the deteriorating living conditions in the building. "I entered the apartment and saw a lot of cats running around," one official told the court. "Moldy chairs had urine and feces on them, as did the cats' sleeping areas and mattresses. One of the mattresses was covered in urine. We lifted it up, and the stench was horrible." He said one of the cats had a serious eye infection that city veterinarians determined to be highly contagious.

"We live in a putrid nightmare," said one neighbor. "Our quality of life has disappeared. I myself am considering moving."

Baumatz said the situation is "complex," and that her neighbors' complaints stem from unrelated disputes she has had with them as well as their envy over the fact that she and her family own five of the building's 16 apartments.

Taking the stand, she referred to her cats as "my entire world," adding that she follows a strict cleaning regimen in each of her two apartments. "I sweep up at least twice a day, wash the floors once a day, wash the sheets, vacuum and do laundry daily. It's very demanding, but I do it all with love," she said.

In her defense, a tenant renting an adjacent apartment said he had never been bothered by the cats. A Petah Tikva municipal veterinarian said the cats were in "excellent" physical shape and that he noticed no stench in the premises. "The complaints are all personal, based on jealousy and envy," she said.

The veterinarian told Haaretz that she had been surprised to hear city officials describe her own impressions of the apartments as negative, and said she is considering suing them for slander.